By Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages. $16.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 5–9.
This book tells the tale of a young girl amputee learning to walk again and a service dog named Rescue trained to serve her emotional and physical needs. Multiple dimensions to this story are handled so deftly they further enrich the already storied relationship between mankind and dogs. Jessica, although a young girl in our book, is based on the life of 37-year-old Jessica Kensky who became a double amputee as a result of the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Her fellow amputee and husband, Patrick Downes, cowrote the book. In the story and also in real life, Jessica first loses her left leg and must adjust to this loss. Then almost two years later, disappointing both Jessica and her doctors, it becomes clear that her right leg must be amputated as well.
In a parallel to Jessica’s double loss and readjustment, Rescue’s guide dog training is shifted from walking in front of a person disabled by blindness (his family and breed’s historical mission) to becoming a service dog who walks beside a person with a disabled limb or limbs. This dual transformation of seemingly pre-ordained purpose of a human being and of her canine guide is so subtly limned by both the words and illustrations that even readers who are not especially “dog people” will feel the close kinship of our breed with theirs.
Alongside and supporting the larger story of emotional teamwork between species are the mundane details of what a well-trained dog does for someone during a long recuperation from serious injury. There are hospital door buttons to push and street crosswalks to navigate. A service dog needs to be a steadying presence and have a strong back to assist a human mate graduating from a wheelchair to crutches, from inside routine and protection to outside freedom and risk.
If this attention to detail engages our curiosity so do the apt illustrations of two plucky and devoted but fragile life-forms cooperating spiritually and bodily to both live more fully. Reading this book together with a child, as I did, alongside my super reading buddy, Daniel, a first-grader at the Fletcher-Maynard Academy in Cambridge, Mass., enriched an already singular experience.